FREDERICK — Frederick County is a high priority for the Maryland State Police Aviation Command.
Because of hilly terrain, which makes flying more challenging, the county will become the first location in the state where the new $11.8 million police medevac helicopters will debut. Training on the AgustaWestland AW139 helicopters will begin June 1 and operations will start July 1, said Lt. Walter A. Kerr, helicopter operations commander.
The Maryland Aviation Command has been around for 43 years, Kerr said, and the new aircraft will replace Maryland’s aging fleet of 11 helicopters, 10 of which are now more than 20 years old. Six helicopters have been delivered and four are on the assembly line in Philadelphia.
Frederick is one of the state’s top three busiest bases, Kerr said.
“There’s a bigger need in Frederick for the aircraft because Frederick has no trauma center, with the closest being in Washington County,” Kerr said, adding that it’s easier to fly in other areas of the state with flat terrain.
The Free State’s Aviation Command moves 2,500 patients statewide annually, but combine other law enforcement activities and the number increases to 6,000 total missions, Kerr said.
“We’re very pleased and blessed to be the operators of the new technology,” Kerr said. “We use the motto ‘getting people out of difficult situations,’ and that might be searching for an Alzheimer’s patient, medical transport, assisting law enforcement, search and rescue, homeland security and damage assessment from a tornado to allow people to put resources where they are most needed.”
Additionally, a fire chief may want to see fires from the air, but aircraft operators are careful that videotaping, which identifies their locations, are not broadcast, thereby “helping the bad guys,” Kerr said.
The new helicopters contain the latest in avionics and safety equipment, including terrain awareness warning systems, night vision compatibility, cockpit voice and video recorders, radar altimeters, and advanced instrument flight rating capabilities, all recommended by the Federal Aviation Administration, according to a state government news release. They provide more space in the patient and cargo areas, enabling flight paramedics to have better access to patients and to carry rescue equipment on board at all times.
Additionally, the new aircraft have satellite tracking and video downlink capabilities, as well as interoperable communication. The twin engines on the helicopters are more powerful than those on the current aircraft, which remains critical during a hoist rescue operation. The new aircraft will enable the crew to fly the aircraft away if an engine fails during a hoist operation. Currently, the aircraft will stay aloft if an engine fails, but the hoist rescue must be terminated before the aircraft can leave.
With the capacity to fly 180 miles per hour, the new helicopter is the fastest in its class, the release said. It has the largest cabin space of any helicopter in the same weight class, and is the only helicopter in its class that meets or exceeds all the latest civil certification safety requirements. The most sacred responsibility that any government holds is to protect the lives of its citizens, Gov. Martin O’Malley said in a statement. That’s why the state chose to invest in procuring the new state-of-the-art medevac helicopters to replace the current fleet.
Maryland’s medevac system is unusual in that there is no direct billing, Kerr said.
“It’s a unique situation that citizens have benefited from over the last 43 years,” Kerr said.
Replacing Maryland’s aging medevac helicopter fleet is a $128 million program funded by the Maryland Department of Transportation.